It’s ironic that Southwest’s network failure, which resulted in 16,000 canceled flights, will be addressed in Congress next week by none other than a former key executive of competitor Hawaiian Airlines. That happens on Thursday when COO Andrew Watterson, the guru behind everything to do with Southwest Hawaii, testifies before the US Senate Commerce Committee about the company’s $800 million meltdown that impacted more than a million passengers.
“Strengthening Airline Operations and Consumer Protections” Hearing.
The hearing will include others, including the head of the Southwest Pilots Association, a spokesperson for the Airlines For America trade association, and the head of the Flyers’ Rights advocacy group. It looks to be contentious. Where in the world is the CEO?
Southwest’s CEO has a prior commitment.
Andy Watterson will testify on behalf of Southwest, and knowing him, he’ll undoubtedly do an excellent job. On the other hand, the committee had specifically requested that Southwest CEO Bob Jordan testify.
Strangely it’s been reported that Jordan has a previous commitment and will be speaking to employees a day earlier in nearby Baltimore. The distance between Baltimore and Washington, DC, is some 35 miles.
Recently, the airline said of Watterson, “Andrew has been working in lockstep with Bob as Southwest manages recovery efforts. As Southwest’s chief operating officer, Andrew is exceptionally well positioned to address the topics covered at the hearing.” On that point, we’d concur.
Pilots’ Union heading in another direction from Southwest.
As Southwest is quickly trying to modernize previously antiquated technologies, their pilot’s union said the company “is using outdated technology and processes, really from the ’90s, that can’t keep up with the network complexity today.”
But Watterson proclaimed that the SWA crew scheduling system didn’t fail but rather simply “couldn’t keep up with the pace of cancellations at the height of the weather disruption.”
Not only that but lawsuits and government scrutiny are bringing more unwanted attention to the United State’s largest airline operation (per USDOT, based on domestic originating passenger market share). USDOT will determine if Southwest’s problems were exacerbated by “unrealistic scheduling” during the holidays.
The government’s first priority, according to Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, is to make sure that those passengers impacted by the meltdown are taken care of.
Southwest shoring up infrastructure inadequacies.
SWA just announced that Lauren Woods would take the helm as Senior VP and Chief Information Officer. With SWA for some 13 years, she’s been strategic in much of Southwest’s technology improvement, including cloud-based systems and transforming their critical enterprise data platforms. As is traditional at SW, she’s made her way up the ranks after earning a BS in Business and Marketing at Cornell.
Bob Jordan said that “Lauren’s vast experience has prepared her well for this important role, as she’s built a stellar reputation for being an innovative and transformational leader in our Technology Department and throughout the Company.”
Lack of forthcoming communication: a fundamental failure.
CEO Jordan recently denied that a lack of tech infrastructure was to blame. He said that was “the biggest misconception.” Rather he referred to it as a “weather event that turned into a crew and aircraft routing network event, that then pushed the technology to a point that it couldn’t help us because it was having to solve problems that were already in the past — but it wasn’t a technology event.”
Semantics perhaps, but seemingly counter-productive at this point for a company which, while it has excelled in so many things, has failed miserably for years in technology improvements.
Also, remember that the other airlines did not suffer the same catastrophic meltdown that hit Southwest during severe winter weather.
Jordan was revealing when he said, “You always wonder whether you communicated fast enough. We were very quick to communicate internally every single day, but I think, did we communicate externally quickly enough.” Clearly, Southwest did not. It took some three days into the disaster before Jordan commented on the situation. Let’s see how this all plays out before the Senate Committee this coming week.
When Southwest came to Hawaii, technology problems were rife.
When the airline arrived in the islands, they said it wasn’t yet possible to route people from or to any cities further away from Hawaii than Phoenix. That struck us as odd for an enormous carrier with a vast national network.
SWA said then that was due to limitations with their reservation system. Even though that limitation has disappeared through Southwest’s move to a robust new system, they have still, years later, never scheduled redeye flights to Hawaii or anywhere else.